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Napalm : an American biography /
Robert M. Neer.
imprint
Cambridge, Mass. : Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2013.
description
viii, 310 p.
ISBN
0674073010 (hbk. : alk. paper), 9780674073012 (hbk. : alk. paper)
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
imprint
Cambridge, Mass. : Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2013.
isbn
0674073010 (hbk. : alk. paper)
9780674073012 (hbk. : alk. paper)
contents note
Prologue -- Hero -- Harvard's genius -- Anonymous research no. 4 -- American kamikazes: suicide bomber bats -- We'll fight mercilessly -- The American century -- Soldier -- Freedom's furnace -- Vietnam syndrome -- Seeing is believing -- Indicted -- Pariah -- Baby burners -- Law catches fire -- The third protocol -- Judgment day -- The weapon that dare not speak its name -- Epilogue: the whole world is watching.
catalogue key
8865582
 
Includes bibliographical references and index.
A Look Inside
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Library Journal on 2013-03-15:
Napalm, the sticky petroleum gel that when combined with white phosphorous burns at 2,000 degrees, is a slice of hell seared into the American psyche as a symbol of the U.S. failure in Vietnam, claims Neer (history, Columbia Univ.) in this rigorously researched investigation, which is accompanied by a helpful website (napalmbiography.com). The author details napalm's creation by Louis Fieser (1899-1977) at Harvard and its pre-Vietnam use, wreaking mayhem in Japan during World War II and later in the Korean War. Neer's coverage of napalm's toll on thousands of Vietnamese citizens and the growing American awareness of these atrocities, which sparked the antiwar movement against Dow Chemical, napalm's largest producer, is gripping. However, the chapters on post-Vietnam napalm diplomacy are slowed by formal, legalistic language. Not until 2009 did the United States sign, with reservations, Protocol III of the Convention of Certain Conventional Weapons, prohibiting the use of napalm. VERDICT This concise, often fascinating, story of this weapon's place in warfare and American popular culture will appeal to informed general readers and specialists in modern U.S. history. It is complemented by Denise Chong's The Girl in the Picture: The Story of Kim Phuc, the Photograph, and the Vietnam War, likely the best personal account of napalm's devastating consequences.-Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Township Lib., King of Prussia, PA (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2013-01-14:
In this engrossing study, historian Neer recounts the prodigious youth and reviled old age of an iconic weapon. He follows the career of napalm-an incendiary jellied gasoline that sticks to everything and is almost inextinguishable-from its clever design by idealistic Harvard chemists during WWII, a time when any contrivance in the furtherance of victory seemed justified. (Experiments with napalm-armed bats fizzled after the critters escaped and burned down an army base.) The results, Neer shows, were both potent and horrific. American napalm did far more damage to Japan than did the atomic bombs, but the mass incineration of civilians raised persistent moral qualms. During the Vietnam War, napalm became a symbol of American military-industrial cruelty; photographs of napalm-ravaged children became a fixture at antiwar demonstrations, and recruiters for its manufacturer, Dow Chemical, were hounded from campuses. The author brings the story up to the present, when napalm has become a cultural signifier of extremist mayhem while international conventions place ever-tighter restrictions on its use. Neer's thoroughly researched, well-written account mixes lucid discussions of chemical engineering and the law of war with gut-wrenching depictions of napalm's nightmarish effects. More than that, it furnishes a thought-provoking lesson on evolving attitudes toward military means and ends. 41 halftones, 1 table. Agents: Sandra Dijkstra and Elise Capron, Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Reviews
Review Quotes
[A] gripping, meticulously documented study of a devilish weapon...Besides giving us an accurate description of the political and military landscape of the time--the relentless bombing of North Vietnam, the antiwar protests, the endless arguments over the war's morality, the outcries over napalm-producing Dow Chemical's recruiting on campuses-- Neer vividly makes clear how napalm earned its satanic reputation as an indiscriminate incinerator of children...[A] thought-provoking and heart-rending book.
As described by Neer in this hideously readable account, napalm--developed in 1942--was one of the first fruits of the academic-military-industrial complex which has done so much to shape America--and the world--in the decades since. Its history seems quintessentially American, too, in the combination of ingenuity and ingenuousness which went into its development and deployment; the moral blindness to what all the world except the U.S. can see.
In 1942, in a secret lab at Harvard University in Massachusetts, chemist Louis Fieser and his team created napalm--an incendiary gel that sticks to skin and can burn down to the bone. Robert Neer 's harrowing story veers from Fieser's tests on 'kamikaze' bats fitted with napalm bombs to the 1944-45 incendiary bombing of Japan that killed 330,000 people.
In this engrossing study, historian Neer recounts the prodigious youth and reviled old age of an iconic weapon...Neer's thoroughly researched, well-written account mixes lucid discussions of chemical engineering and the law of war with gut-wrenching depictions of napalm's nightmarish effects. More than that, it furnishes a thought-provoking lesson on evolving attitudes toward military means and ends.
Napalm: An American Biography is...meticulously researched and vitally important...Napalm came to be employed the world over. Neer 's chronicle of its use by American allies and client regimes against opponents in the Philippines, Greece, Cuba, Egypt, Peru, Bolivia, Cyprus, Tunisia, Algeria, Kenya and Angola, among other nations, is a revelation and one of the most enlightening portions of Napalm ... Napalm: An American Biography is a fascinating and long-overdue study of one of modern warfare's signature weapons. Neer has provided a valuable book that fills in historical gaps and sheds much-needed light on a history that many would rather forget.
Napalm is a brilliantly conceived, masterfully executed, and deeply disturbing book. Robert M. Neer offers a vivid examination of the military-technological partnership that drives the evolution of warfare, with moral considerations lagging far behind.
Napalm is a revelation. In a story that takes us from Harvard Stadium to Vietnam, Robert M. Neer retells the past 70 years of American history through a single extraordinary and terrible invention. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the American way of war and its humanitarian dilemmas.
[Napalm's] history is a parable of the vicissitudes of modem American power... Neer shows that it played a role as important as the atomic bomb in hastening Japanese surrender in the Second World War.
[Napalm's] history is a parable of the vicissitudes of modern American power... Neer shows that it played a role as important as the atomic bomb in hastening Japanese surrender in the Second World War.
Napalm was not developed as anything other than a weapon to burn people. Neer provides damning proof of this...Napalm killed hundreds of thousands and helped the Allies to win the Second World War. But it helped to lose America the war in Vietnam. Photographs of napalm victims turned opposition to the war into a national movement.
[ Neer has] a brilliant eye for the horrible detail...Neer constructs this early narrative with exceptional skill and intelligence, vividly tracing the path that connects gleeful scientists on Cambridge soccer fields to streets and basements choked with human ash in Europe and Asia.
Neer has created the first comprehensive history of napalm, meticulously charting the early years when the weapon--developed by scientists at a secret war research laboratory at Harvard--was treated as a glorious new instrument of war at the tail-end of the second world war, to its controversial image in the aftermath of Vietnam and the protest movements that grew around it...Neer doesn't hold back his punches in describing the nightmarish scenes following napalm strikes, quoting heavily from accounts of those caught underneath and journalists who arrived on the scenes soon after...There is no question that Neer has done a masterful job of writing a compelling history of one of the major villains of the 20th century.
Neer help[s] us understand why the events of 1945 linger on as exemplars of both the pinnacle of military engineering and the essence of what war should not be.
Neer recounts in rich detail the extraordinary evolution of napalm from hero in the gilded age of post-WWII American power to pariah in the aftermath of Vietnam...Neer ultimately moves beyond the protests to examine how antiwar grassroots activism, art, journalism and politics during and immediately after the Vietnam War radically reshaped cultural attitudes about napalm and the United States.
Neer 's biography covers the post-Vietnam years of napalm, its appearance in song and story (the scabrous military call-and-response Napalm Sticks to Kids, the film Apocalypse Now), U.S. resistance to international efforts to ban its use (overcome finally in 2008, although with reservations) and, albeit with a name change, its ongoing use in the war in Iraq...[A] disturbing book.
Neer systematically follows the story of napalm that originally empowered an often outnumbered American military to fight far abroad against the Japanese, and later, North Koreans, Chinese and Vietnamese--only to become a byword for the pathologies of the military-industrial complex of the United States...Neer is often highly critical of the American use of napalm; yet his narrative of its origins, production and use over the past seven decades is not a jeremiad, but learned, fair and historically accurate...Neer is especially insightful in showing how Vietnam was a turning point in public perceptions about napalm...For all its infernal destructiveness and the terror it instills in hapless ground troops, this savage weapon has probably not changed the thinking behind age-old warfare all that much.
No one else has told so deeply and compellingly the story of how 'Napalm was born a hero but lives a pariah'--a terrifying weapon associated with America's Vietnam War whose history went back much further, as did the dishonest efforts of leaders to cope with its reputation.
Provides us with a meticulous account of the development of napalm as a chemical weapon that would eventually be responsible for the deaths of millions of innocent civilians around the world. At a time of increasing paranoia about weapons of mass destruction in general and chemical weapons in particular, Napalm is a timely contemplation of the political, economic and sociological factors that combined to produce such a seemingly simple yet diabolical munition...[A] chilling account of this indiscriminate weapon of mass destruction.
Readers expecting a polemic may be pleasantly surprised at this lucid account of the technical, political and ethical features of a notorious symbol of American inhumanity in war...Napalm receives an overdue but thoroughly satisfying history.
Robert M. Neer 's clear-eyed and harrowing new account surveys this infamous technology from both perspectives. This is history, in a literal sense, from above and below. Using napalm as a symbol for American global influence acutely demonstrates the political trajectory of a superpower, from impetuous upstart to tortured giant to--finally--chastened hegemon.
The author details napalm's creation by Louis Fieser (1899-1977) at Harvard and its pre-Vietnam use, wreaking mayhem in Japan during World War II and later in the Korean War. Neer 's coverage of napalm's toll on thousands of Vietnamese citizens and the growing American awareness of these atrocities, which sparked the antiwar movement against Dow Chemical, napalm's largest producer, is gripping... [A] concise, often fascinating, story of this weapon's place in warfare and American popular culture.
This book should really appeal to everyone. There is no bias here, no leftist or conservative agenda. This is simply an exhaustive history of napalm, from its beginnings as kind of a scientific puzzle for technocrats to one of the most widely despised symbols of war. This book is historical enough for history buffs, yet laden with enough military and chemistry jargon to make the viewers of the History Channel and Discovery Channel, respectively, go dry-mouthed with anticipation. Neer has a penchant for making even the most technical and obtuse topic insanely readable.
[This] is the first comprehensive history of napalm, and tells the story of how a weapon deemed so useful in World War II and Korea hit a turning point in Vietnam. During that time it became the target of antiwar protestors, who mounted a nationwide campaign to stop Dow Chemical Co. from manufacturing it.
This item was reviewed in:
Publishers Weekly, January 2013
Library Journal, March 2013
Kirkus Reviews, April 2013
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Summaries
Bowker Data Service Summary
This title provides a history of napalm, from its inaugural test on the Harvard College soccer field, to a Marine Corps plan to attack Japan with millions of bats armed with tiny napalm time bombs, to the reflections of Phan Thi Kim Phuc, a girl who knew firsthand about its power and its morality.
Main Description
Napalm, incendiary gel that sticks to skin and burns to the bone, came into the world on Valentine's Day 1942 at a secret Harvard war research laboratory. On March 9, 1945, it created an inferno that killed over 87,500 people in Tokyo-more than died in the atomic explosions at Hiroshima or Nagasaki. It went on to incinerate sixty-four of Japan's largest cities. The Bomb got the press, but napalm did the work. After World War II, the incendiary held the line against communism in Greece and Korea-Napalm Day led the 1950 counter-attack from Inchon-and fought elsewhere under many flags. Americans generally applauded, until the Vietnam War. Today, napalm lives on as a pariah: a symbol of American cruelty and the misguided use of power, according to anti-war protesters in the 1960s and popular culture from Apocalypse Now to the punk band Napalm Death and British street artist Banksy. Its use by Serbia in 1994 and by the United States in Iraq in 2003 drew condemnation. United Nations delegates judged deployment against concentrations of civilians a war crime in 1980. After thirty-one years, America joined the global consensus, in 2011. Robert Neer has written the first history of napalm, from its inaugural test on the Harvard College soccer field, to a Marine Corps plan to attack Japan with millions of bats armed with tiny napalm time bombs, to the reflections of Phan Thi Kim Phuc, a girl who knew firsthand about its power and its morality.
Main Description
Napalm, incendiary gel that sticks to skin and burns to the bone, came into the world on Valentine's Day 1942 at a secret Harvard war research laboratory. On March 9, 1945, it created an inferno that killed over 87,500 people in Tokyo'more than died in the atomic explosions at Hiroshima or Nagasaki. It went on to incinerate sixty-four of Japan's largest cities. The Bomb got the press, but napalm did the work. After World War II, the incendiary held the line against communism in Greece and Korea'Napalm Day led the 1950 counter-attack from Inchon'and fought elsewhere under many flags. Americans generally applauded, until the Vietnam War. Today, napalm lives on as a pariah: a symbol of American cruelty and the misguided use of power, according to anti-war protesters in the 1960s and popular culture from Apocalypse Now to the punk band Napalm Death and British street artist Banksy. Its use by Serbia in 1994 and by the United States in Iraq in 2003 drew condemnation. United Nations delegates judged deployment against concentrations of civilians a war crime in 1980. After thirty-one years, America joined the global consensus, in 2011. Robert Neer has written the first history of napalm, from its inaugural test on the Harvard College soccer field, to a Marine Corps plan to attack Japan with millions of bats armed with tiny napalm time bombs, to the reflections of Phan Thi Kim Phuc, a girl who knew firsthand about its power and its morality.
Table of Contents
Prologue: Trang Bang Village, South Vietnam, June 8, 1972p. 1
Hero
Harvard's Geniusp. 7
Anonymous Research No. 4p. 29
American Kamikazes: Suicide Bomber Batsp. 45
We'll Fight Mercilesslyp. 52
The American Centuryp. 75
Soldier
Freedom's Furnacep. 91
Vietnam Syndromep. 109
Seeing Is Believingp. 126
Indictedp. 134
Pariah
Baby Burnersp. 151
Trial of Firep. 165
The Third Protocolp. 174
Judgment Dayp. 193
The Weapon That Dare Not Speak Its Namep. 208
Epilogue: The Whole World Is Watchingp. 223
Notesp. 231
Acknowledgmentsp. 301
Indexp. 305
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.

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